No matter how close you may be to your siblings, talking about money with them could be a challenge. Talking about money with anyone – even a financial planner – can be difficult. When you add the unique relationship most of us have with our siblings, which may still involve a bit of a rivalry, money is usually a topic best left to the side. However, financial conversations between siblings become inevitable, especially as brothers and sisters manage their ageing parents’ money matters, including estate planning, healthcare, retirement income and wills.
If you have shared responsibilities with your siblings down the road, it’s important to make sure your family is on the same page. When this time comes it’s important that you and your siblings have civil conversations about money-related family matters. Set aside your differences. When your parents need help, don’t waste your time rehashing old family feuds. Keep yourself in check if you are tempted to fall into old patterns of behaviour that may alienate your siblings. You may not be able to control how they behave, but you can control your own actions. So, what do siblings fight about?
- How an inheritance is divided
- Whether one sibling supports their parents more than the other sibling(s)
- Whether parents are being fair in their financial support of their children.
The barriers to such conversations vary but tend to revolve around deeply held beliefs — from long-held prohibitions on talking about money or a death in a family, to the parents’ fear of losing control over their finances and children, or even a sense of embarrassment if the parties involved haven’t managed their money well. Often, it’s this cultural discomfort about discussing what are still perceived to be taboo topics. More specifically, adult children may be nervous about raising the topic of their parents’ finances for fear they may appear greedy or nosy. This makes them uncertain about how to get a conversation started.
- Determine your priorities and goals: Assess what financial matters you and your siblings will need to manage together, such as caring for ageing parents.
- Keep communications open, frank and frequent, and don’t let past conflicts interfere: Having honest financial conversations often can help to avoid misunderstandings that can have a ripple effect through your entire family.
- Set responsibilities: Each sibling may be able to help in different ways, whether that means time or money. Assign roles and responsibilities based on each person’s circumstances and abilities.
- Talk less, listen more: Money is a delicate topic to discuss. An open-minded, non-judgemental approach can encourage your sibling(s) to speak up and boost your chances of having productive conversations.
- Keep your parents in mind: It’s very likely they will need your help, particularly as they age. Setting aside any differences can help you work together toward common goals.
- Ask for help if needed: Whether it’s seeking assistance from other family members or an outside source like a financial advisor, it’s okay to ask someone to help guide the conversation.
Body language is very important around family because they often know you best (and worst). Unlike strangers who might put up with a little attitude, if a family member recognises a slight mannerism or catches an eye-roll, things can get dramatic and explosive very quickly.
Ideally, you should have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. If you’re one of the ‘wise’ older siblings, you hopefully have a better handle on all the finances and can dictate the tone and agenda. You can also make sure everyone is comfortable and willing to ask questions.
Finally, don’t be coy. Unless someone is demanding specific figures you’re unwilling to offer, try to answer as openly and honestly as possible. The entire point of normalising money discussions with your siblings is to limit surprises, not heighten the suspense and turn it into a free-for-all.